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Introduction to AS ISO 15489

AS 4390 | AS ISO 15489 | Differences between AS 4390 and AS ISO 15489 | New components of AS ISO 15489 | Conclusion

AS ISO 15489-2002, Records Management is the Australian standard governing records management practices. It has replaced Australian Standard AS 4390-1996, Records Management. This document provides a brief introduction to AS ISO 15489, highlighting its significant relationship with AS 4390 and listing some of the differences that exist between the standards. 

AS 4390

AS 4390 had and continues to have a significant impact on the Australian business environment. Possibly its greatest influence was in demonstrating the importance of recordkeeping to organisational efficiencies and effectiveness. It was also significant for emphasising the role records management plays in the strategic directions of an organisation by indicating the close relationships between recordkeeping and accountability, risk management, information management and quality management.

Key components of AS 4390

Some of its key features that helped to achieve these outcomes were its:

  • definition of a record as evidence of business transactions. The notion of transactionality and evidence are a focus of the standard and are used within it as a key means to differentiate records from other forms of organisational information and to show the intrinsic association between business and recordkeeping
  • codification of continuum-based thinking to ensure appropriate management of records through time
  • coverage of electronic records
  • codification of the methodology for designing and implementing recordkeeping systems (DIRKS)
  • focus on the importance of record creation and the need to build triggers for creation into business processes and systems
  • extension of the definition of appraisal to include the identification of which records to create and capture, as well as how long they need to be kept. Basing appraisal on business activity is also a key requirement of the standard
  • recommendation of multiple uses of business activity based classification schemes, to implement language controls, facilitate disposal activities, assist with storage requirements and assist with the implementation of access controls
  • scalability which means the document is applicable in both the public and private sectors, in a major department or small office

AS ISO 15489

AS ISO 15489 carries through all these main components of AS 4390, but internationalises the concepts and brings them up-to-date. The standards thereby codify Australian best practice but are also progressive in their recommendations.

The standard is divided into two parts, AS ISO 15489.1-2002, Records Management - Part 1: General provides a high level framework for recordkeeping and specifically addresses the benefits of records management, regulatory considerations affecting its operation and the importance of assigning of responsibilities for recordkeeping. It also discusses high level records management requirements, the design of recordkeeping systems and actual processes involved in records management, such as record capture, retention, storage, access etc. It concludes with a discussion of records management audit operations and training requirements for all staff of an organisation.

AS ISO 15489.2-2002, Records Management - Part 2: Guidelines provides practical and more detailed guidance about how to implement the framework outlined in Part 1. For example it provides specific detail about the development of records management policy and responsibility statements and outlines the DIRKS process for developing recordkeeping systems.

Part 2 also provides practical guidance about the development of records processes and controls and specifically addresses the development of key recordkeeping instruments such as thesauri, disposal authorities and security and access classification schemes. It then discusses the use of these tools to capture, register, classify, store, provide access to and otherwise manage records. Part 2 also provides specific guidance about the establishment of monitoring, auditing and training programs to promote and effectively implement records management within an organisation.

Differences between AS 4390 and AS ISO 15489

As the above indicates, there is great similarity between the standards. However, some differences exist and these are principally in the areas of terminology and structure.


To promote international consistency certain terms which are commonly used in Australia to describe recordkeeping activity were not able to be used in the international standard. For example, the word recordkeeping itself has a specific meaning in Europe and America which is inconsistent with the Australian definition. Because of these differing meanings the word could not be used in the standard and consequently the international standard upon which AS ISO 15489 is based, ISO 15489, makes no reference to recordkeeping. Additionally, the word 'disposition' is used in ISO 15489 instead of the standard Australian word for this process, 'disposal'.

To help rectify these terminological issues, AS ISO 15489 contains a preface. This is the one difference between AS ISO 15489 and the international standard upon which it is based. The preface identifies the Australian equivalents for words in ISO 15489 that are incompatible with current Australian terminology and useage.


As has been briefly mentioned above, the new Australian Standard is comprised of two parts. AS ISO 15489.1 is the standard proper and the document known as AS ISO 15489.2 is the guideline document developed to support the high level requirements of the standard. This latter document is informative only but it contains much practical guidance and has been designed as a tool to assist with the implementation of the concepts and practices outlined in Part 1.

Within Part 1 and Part 2, information has been restructured and is not presented as it is in AS 4390. A good example of the restructuring is the translation of the 'full and accurate records' requirements outlined in Part 3 of AS 4390 which were actually mixture of record and system related requirements. AS ISO 15489.1 separates these requirements into clause 7, Records management requirements, detailing the principles of records management programs and the characteristics of records and clause 8, Design and implementation of a records system which discusses the design of systems and the characteristics they should possess. Overall, this restructuring makes for a better flow of concepts and leads to a simplified and more succinct presentation.

New components of AS ISO 15489

In addition to their significant similarities, AS ISO 15489 contains a number of new areas. These include:

  • clause 4 in Part 1 about 'benefits of records management'
  • guidance about managing the provision of access to records. This area was not really covered by AS 4390 and so is an important inclusion in the international standard. The guidance relating to access includes recommendations about the system design considerations needed to manage or provide access (Part 1: 8.3.6) and the development of access frameworks to facilitate or automate access (Part 1: 9.7). Part 2 covers the development of a security and access classification scheme (4.2.5) and describes the process of assigning access and securities (4.3.5) to records and personnel
  • an explicit emphasis on metadata, when it should be captured and its role in facilitating and automating records management practices
  • a greater incorporation of electronic recordkeeping requirements, and
  • a structured identification of records management processes and controls. For example, Part 2 identifies the instruments needed for a number of different records management operations which include a classification scheme based on business activities, a records disposition authority and a security and access classification scheme, and how these should be developed. It then goes on to explain the processes that use these instruments and how these instruments assist with records management activities. This again is part of the logical restructuring of the standards to enable a clear flow of concepts.

In terms of practical additions, the standards also contain:

  • more linkages between their sections to show how their components interrelate, and
  • an index and extensive table of contents to facilitate access.


AS 4390 has played a very significant role in the development and codification of the records management discipline, both here and overseas. It has laid the foundation for AS ISO 15489 and its key concepts are still reflected in these new global and Australian Standards for records management.